It’s a place many of us have been before – stepping from the comfortable into the new, scary, and maybe exciting. It’s the story of modern-day immigrants, but it’s also the story of those that shaped our countries and our cities the way they are today. It’s no secret that I adore the city I live in. Toronto is the perfect place for me. But it took awhile to love it – and in that, my newest book, “Lake Effect: Voices of Toronto’s History” was born.
Toronto is situated on the edge of Lake Ontario. It’s not the biggest of the Great Lakes, nor is it the most impressive, but when you’re an immigrant from a landlocked country, it might seem vast and frightening. It might seem like crossing a treacherous ocean (the way many did, even before hitting the Great Lakes) in order to get to what was promised to you as Paradise. Toronto is affected by the capricious weather off the lake – and we were affected by the many immigrants who crossed it in some way, shape, or form to get here. We are what our ancestors built. We live the way we do because of what they did when they got here.
I told the story of immigrants in “Lake Effect” partly because I’m a first-generation Canadian on my father’s side. The other part of it was because they often never got to tell their own stories in their lifetime. My stories are fictional, but I hope they echo the voices of the people that built this city. I walk around constantly and imagine what it was like to live here even a hundred years ago. Their voices are in my ears and on my mind 24/7.
I’m proud of this book, because of the work it took to write it, and because of the things I learned when I wrote it. I didn’t just learn Toronto history. I learned about the unquenchable human spirit. I learned about myself and the strength I carry from my own ancestors. And I learned that if you want to tell a story, you need to tell it in your own words, because no one else is going to tell it for you.
It’s two years of work, a lot of frustration, many pretty photos, and many sleepless nights. It’s being overwhelmed by standing in neighbourhoods in Old Toronto. It’s looking through archives and photographs, it’s about being caught by someone’s eyes, or someone’s stance, and needing to tell that person’s story. And through it, I fell even more in love with this city I live in. I felt even more privileged to live here and to be part of the ever-changing landscape of what it means to live in Toronto.
I call it Toronto the Good. It’s not always good. But the good it has comes from the people who poured their heart and soul into surviving here. I’m privileged to tell their stories – and to benefit from their work here.